With both Markakis and Cruz going elsewhere in free agency, it should come as no surprise that the Orioles have made outfield their top priority. A month ago I recommended that the Orioles attempt to trade or non-tender De Aza and sign Aoki and that's still a possibility. But recently people have suggested that the Orioles try to trade for Jay Bruce. The Toronto Sun claims that the Reds would be willing to trade him for a few inexpensive major league players. Would Jay Bruce be a good option for this Orioles club?
At first glance, Jay Bruce looks like he could help our offense. He was solid offensively from 2010-2013 with a wRC+ in the 117 to 124 range or about 20% above average. But in 2014 he had a horrendous year offensively with only a wRC+ of 79. Defense metrics indicate that his defense is about average. His sum UZR over the past three years is -.6. He is probably slightly below average although he did have a strong defensive season in 2013 when he was the Reds’ winner of the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award. Jay Bruce will be 28 years old at the start of the 2015 season and becomes a free agent after the 2016 season. A team that trades for him will receive two years of his prime at a total cost of $25 million.
It makes sense to take a more in depth look. Let’s start with his walk rate and strikeout rate. In 2010 and 2011, Bruce had a 10% walk rate. In 2012 and 2013, he had a walk rate over 9%. In 2014, his walk rate dropped to 8%. This seems to indicate that his walk rate is regressing over time. His unintentional walk rate shows a similar trend. From 2010-2012 he had about an 8.5% unintentional walk rate. In 2013 and 2014 he had an unintentional walk rate of 7.1%. This seems to indicate that his walk rate has really started to regress over the past two years. The only reason why his 2013 and 2014 walk numbers are different is because pitchers didn’t intentionally walk him as often in 2014 as they did in 2013. This is probably because he had a poor year in 2014. His strikeout rate tells the same story. From 2010-2012 his average K% was 24%. In 2013 and 2014 his average K% was about 27%. It seems that he's walking less and striking out more.
His plate discipline stats explain this trend. From 2010-2012 his swinging strike rate was nearly 12% but in 2013 and 2014 his swinging strike rate was about 13.8%. It is also worrisome that from 2010-2013 his O-Swing% was roughly 29% but in 2014 it was 33% while his Z-Swing% was 74% from 2010-2013 but only 69% in 2014. These statistics indicate that he’s not making contact as often as he once did and as a result his walk rate is decreasing while his strikeout rate is increasing. It’s possible that this is simply a two year fluke but it is a red flag.
The next thing to look at is his power. From 2010-2012 his FB% was roughly 45%. He had a 39.4% FB% in 2013 and a 34% FB% in 2014 while his HR/FB rate has stayed consistent over the entire sample. He did hit 30 HRs in 2013 but he also had 697 PAs. If we normalize his PAs to 600 from 2010 to 2014 then he would have hit 26 HRs in 2010, 29 in 2011, 32 in 2012, 26 in 2013 and 20 in 2014. Going forward, I expect him to be a 20-25 HR hitter instead of a 30 HR hitter. This may seem like a small loss of power but is definitely another red flag.
He doesn’t do particularly well when he hits balls into play either. From 2011 to 2014 he had a BABIP of .297, .283, .322 and .269. His 2013 number is the clear outlier and suggests that he was simply lucky that year. It also suggests that his BABIP is regressing as he gets older but that it was never very good to begin with. I would expect him to have a BABIP that’s certainly below .300 in 2015 and probably in the .270-.280 range.
If Jay Bruce had a more reasonable BABIP of .288 in 2013 then he would likely have 14 fewer hits of which 9 would be singles and 5 would be doubles. If so, his offensive line would have been .240/.308/.447 instead of .262/.329/.478. Steamer predicts him to hit .239/.313/.441 with a wRC+ of 106 and a BABIP of .285 in 2015.
Jay Bruce had a terrible 2014 and I expect him to have a better 2015. But I also think that there’s some regression in his performance and there are certainly a number of red flags. It's worth noting that Fake Teams came to the same conclusion. I see him putting up a .230/.300/.410 line with slightly below average defense. With 2 years and $25M remaining and given that he's still in his prime, Bruce may be worth his contract but wouldn't be worth a few major league pieces.
The Orioles need to add someone to make up for the losses of their outfield. But Jay Bruce has a number of warning flags and likely won't be as effective as he was in the past. It would be a mistake to give up anything of value in return for Jay Bruce.